Valentine TV spuds & duds

I spud you—my miracle potato

What passes for romance on Valentine’s Day? Is it sugar-spice-nice girls under the protection of boys formed from sterner stuff, like snakes, snails and puppy dog tails? (I’d like to see that rendered Arcimboldo-style, by the way.) Yes, in the case of this embarrassingly retrogressive Kay Jewelers ad, where a woman is cowed by a thunderclap:

 

“Surround her with the strength of your love”

What is hackneyed and insulting to me no doubt taps into the sincere impulses of others. Still, the commercial is a tellingly direct echo of these ads created a half century earlier:

His and Hers Hamilton watch ad, National Geographic December 1963

His... are masculine, accurate and dependable. Hers... are feminine, graceful, each one designed to say, 'I love you.'

Hamilton Watch Company’s version of romance is depressingly transactional—an opportunity for straight couples to barter goods and services.

It’s a pleasant shock to find sitcoms offering nuanced perspectives on relationships.

 

 

Modern Family saw the hilarious return of married couple Phil and Claire’s role-playing alter egos Clive and Juliana. Last year’s attempt to bring sexy back was aborted after Claire, naked under her trench coat, got it stuck in an escalator. The show exposes the truth that love and sex can be horribly awkward, even when the partners are genuinely attracted to each other.

In another subplot, gay couple Cam and Mitchell are more concerned with gratifying their vanity than with gratifying each other, squabbling over who is the crush-object of Mitchell’s assistant and the pizza-delivery guy. Perfect Couples mined the same territory: established pairings looking for an ego boost and a break from ennui by flirting with strangers.

Why do people care so much about Valentine’s Day? It has become tied up not only with consumerism and gender stereotypes but also with self-esteem. We become despondent—and engage in binges à la Bridget Jones—when we seek and do not find validation that we are desirable and lovable.

Cougar Town’s Jules turns intimacy into a form of hazing: if she can make her boyfriend cry about his father’s death, it will prove he loves her. On a lighter note, Laurie and Bobby use the occasion to run a scam, where a fake breakup will earn them a free meal.

 

 

For the younger set,Valentine’s Day is a popularity contest separating the high school haves from the have-nots. Popular Glee cheerleader Santana, unattached on February 14, seethes with resentment at finding herself on the wrong side of the divide. Kurt’s Lonely Hearts dinner and Blaine’s song-and-dance misfire are true to my memories of exquisite adolescent heartbreak and vulnerability.

 

 

I have an excruciating memory of presenting my high-school crush with a homemade sugar cookie, frosted in white, piped in pink, and studded with his red hot initial, an obvious love offering met with humiliating coldness. This year, though, I was cheered by a valentine from nature—a freakishly cute heart-shaped fingerling potato in my farmshare. Were I tempted to celebrate with booze or chocolate, I’d still be covered. There were liver and stomach-shaped potatoes too.

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